Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath – Spiritual Brotherhood

This is the second part of the Brotherhood of Breath story and was published in the South African jazz journal TwoTone in October 1992. The first part was was called Prophets Without Honour, which was published in the same journal in September 1992.

Brotherhood of Breath’s 1971 album was followed by a second RCA release the following year, Brotherhood.

In 1974 came a live album recorded at the jazz festival in Willisau, Switzerland. This featured an impressive number by famous Nigerian percussionist Tungi Oyelana called, appropriately enough, Tungi’s Song, featuring a breathtaking solo from Mongezi Feza (trumpet).

Chris had met Tungi during a six-week visit to Nigeria in 1969, while he was writing the score for a movie version of Wole Soyinka’s play, Kongi’s Harvest. Sadly, the movie was never released and the recorded score is still gathering dust in a tape vault somewhere. Any offers for local release from a record company – I’m sure it would be a commercially viable project?

Another live album was recorded at Toulouse in France in 1977. It contained only three tracks – but what great tracks they are: Chris’ own Sunrise on the Sun, Mongezi’s lovely Sonia and Dudu Pukwana’s Kwhalo.

On this date the band featured two South African basses – Mbizo Dyani and Harry Miller. In the liner notes Keith Beal wrote that the South Africans in the band “…will tell you that all music is a religious experience.” That was certainly true of the Brotherhood in all its incarnations: the music exhuded a spiritual quality which reflected the vision of all its members.

Another highly-charged album was Yes Please, recorded at the time of the 1981 Angouleme Jazz Festival – not a live album but one which shows a 17-member line-up in great form.

For me, one number which seems to epitomise the spiritual quality Beal refers to is Uqonda from this Angouleme album. Hearing Shololo Mothle lay down the theme with support from Peter Segona on trumpet and Bruce Grant’s flute obligato is an emotionally involving excperience.

In 1988 Virgin released possibly the greatest Brotherhood album, Country Cooking, which has been available in South Africa for some time, but only in limited quantities.

In 1989 the band toured Europe with US reedman Archie Shepp. One of the concerts was released on CD in France – the last Brotherhood album with Chris at the piano. On this CD they paly typical Brotherhood numbers like Country Cooking and Sweet as Honey, as well as two Shepp numbers, Steam and Bessie Smith’s Blues, the latter featuring some great blues shouting by Shepp himself.

Brotherhood’s story is a great chapter in then history of South African music. Sadly, its one little known to most South African music lovers. There is talk of some members of the band visiting the country later in the year. Maybe that will provide the opportunity for jazz fans to read at least a little of this lost chapter.

A short discography of the Brotherhood of Breath

Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath RCA Neon 1971

Brotherhood RCA Victor  1972

Live at Willisau Ogun  1974

Live at Toulouse: Procession Ogun  1978

Yes Please In and Out  1981

Country Cooking Virgin    1988

Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath with Archie Shepp 52 Rue Est   1989

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